On the most recent of my frequent trips to the dentist, Dr. Z. mentioned about the podcast of David Blight’s Yale lectures. Dr. Z is a Civil War fanatic (“buff” doesn’t half describe him). Besides serving as a re-enactor, he collects letters, photographs, weapons, uniforms, etc. He and Dione Longley poured all that and more into the magnificent Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories. On Monday, Dr. Z. said he goes to hear Professor Blight speak at every opportunity.
I had heard the professor and had read Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory but had no idea that I could revisit its genius and expand my horizons with the podcast – and the works mentioned in the syllabus. So instead of working, I listened to the introductory ’cast.
The rewards are immediate. Blight casts a wide net with the overview – broad perspectives, the voices of politicians and poets and novelists. I’m anticipating a revisit to Walt Whitman’s Civil War poetry and a new acquaintance with Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches about her time as a nurse.
Like all good teachers, he’s funny – and reminded me that his main audience was undergraduates who have to be told not to be obvious if they choose to read The Yale Daily News instead of paying attention in class.
He also raised a dismaying point. He had mentioned Appomattox several times during an earlier lecture. He asked for questions at the end. The first one: “What’s Appomattox?” He did not feel the need to explain to the Yale history class.
He eased in to the subject matter with a quote from Herodotus, author of History, the first written historical narrative. It covered the wars between the ancient Greeks and the Persians. After one of his colleagues mentioned it in a talk, he received a call from a journalist at a weekly magazine. She asked about the book and the author. Then she asked, “Do you have his phone number?”
The only down side of The Civil War and Reconstruction is that it has already interfered with work projects. At least I can justify the time by saying that it’s important research for the film.